Bulls to play for pride in Bloem

The Bulls will almost certainly go into their match against the Cheetahs on Saturday knowing that they cannot qualify for the Super Rugby playoffs. SIMON BORCHARDT reports.

The Bulls thrashed the Sunwolves 50-3 at Loftus last weekend to move past the Sharks into the South African group's wildcard- qualifying spot. However, the Sharks then beat the Cheetahs 26-10 in Durban to move two log points ahead of the Bulls and all but book their place in the quarter-finals.

The Sharks should comfortably beat the Sunwolves at Kings Park on Friday night, which means the Bulls will only have pride to play for in Bloemfontein 24 hours later.

It's been a disappointing season for the Bulls who, unlike the Sharks, have not had to play against any of the New Zealand teams in the conference stage. After claiming six wins and a draw from their first eight matches, they looked set to qualify for the quarter-finals, only to lose four of their next five. The Pretoria-based side fired against the Sunwolves last Saturday, especially in the first half, but it should prove to be too little, too late.

The Cheetahs have had an even poorer season, losing 10 of their 14 games. They are fifth in the South African group, a massive 16 log points behind the Bulls.

However, the Cheetahs always pose a threat in South African derbies, as the Sharks found out last weekend. Had referee Stuart Berry awarded the Cheetahs a penalty try, after having repeatedly penalised the Sharks scrum, the visitors would have led 14-3 and the result may have been very different. So angry were the Cheetahs with Berry's performance that they laid official complaints with Sanzaar and SA Rugby.

The Bulls will go into Saturday's match against the Cheetahs as favourites, not just because of their superior record this season, but their record in Bloemfontein – they have lost just one of their eight away Super Rugby matches against the Cheetahs (a 15-9 defeat in 2014).

Oupa Mohoje will captain the Cheetahs on Saturday after Francois Venter was ruled out with a concussion. He has been replaced by William Small-Smith at outside centre. In other changes to the starting XV, Armandt Koster and Charles Marais replace Carl Wegner and Ox Nche at No 4 lock and loosehead prop respectively, with Paul Schoeman at No 8 and Uzair Cassiem moving to blindside flank.

The Bulls have made two changes to their starting lineup. Tian Schoeman replaces Francois Brummer at flyhalf and Marcel van der Merwe comes in at tighthead prop for Werner Kruger.

Overall: Bulls 14, Cheetahs 3
In Bloemfontein: Bulls 7, Cheetahs 1

– The Bulls have won 14 of their last 16 games against the Cheetahs, though five of the last seven encounters have been decided by margins of fewer than seven points.
– The Cheetahs have won five of their last nine home games against South African opposition, with a win and a loss against the Bulls in that span.
– The Bulls haven’t come back from a half-time deficit to win a game since round 12 in 2014 – against the Cheetahs.
– The Cheetahs have the worst scrum success in Super Rugby this season (77%), while the Bulls have the third worst (85%).
– No side has conceded more penalties this season than the Bulls (169) and Cheetahs (158).
Source: Opta

Team Top point-scorer Top try-scorer Most metres gained Most tackles
Cheetahs Fred Zeilinga (74) Sergeal Petersen (9) Sergeal Petersen (886) Paul Schoeman (116)
Bulls Francois Brummer (107) Adriaan Strauss (6) SP Marais (515) Lappies Labuschagne (149)

Cheetahs – 15 Clayton Blommetjies, 14 Sergeal Petersen, 13 William van der Spuy, 12 Michael van der Spuy, 11 Raymond Rhule, 10 Fred Zeilinga, 9 Shaun Venter, 8 Paul Schoeman, 7 Oupa Mohoje (c), 6 Uzair Cassiem, 5 Francois Uys, 4 Armandt Koster, 3 Maks van Dyk, 2 Torsten van Jaarsveld, 1 Charles Marais. 

Subs: 16 Joseph Dweba, 17 Ox Nche, 18 Johan Coetzee, 19 Reniel Hugo, 20 Henco Venter, 21 Tian Meyer, 22 George Whitehead, 23 Ryno Benjamin.

Bulls – 15 Jesse Kriel, 14 Jamba Ulengo, 13 Burger Odendaal, 12 Dries Swanepoel, 11 Travis Ismaiel, 10 Tian Schoeman, 9 Piet van Zyl, 8 Renaldo Bothma, 7 Jannes Kirsten, 6 Lappies Labuschagne, 5 Marvin Orie, 4 Jason Jenkins, 3 Marcel van der Merwe 2 Adriaan Strauss (c), 1 Pierre Schoeman.
Subs: 16 Bandise Maku, 17 Nqoba Mxoli, 18 Werner Kruger, 19 Grant Hattingh, 20 Arno Botha, 21 Rudy Paige, 22 Francois Brummer, 23 SP Marais.

Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant referees: AJ Jacobs (South Africa), Lourens van der Merwe (South Africa)
TMO: Johan Greeff (South Africa)

SA Rugby magazine team's SuperBru picks

Sharks vs Sunwolves

Stormers vs Kings

Jaguares vs Lions

Crusaders vs Hurricanes

Highlanders vs Chiefs

Brumbies vs Force

Blues vs Waratahs

Reds vs Rebels

Photo: Gavin Barker/BackpagePix

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Simon Borchardt